Defense Department to finalize arms deal
WASHINGTON — The Defense Department is expected to finalize a $10 billion arms deal with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates next week that will provide missiles, warplanes and troop transports to help them counter any future threat from Iran.
A weeklong visit to the region by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will culminate a year of secret negotiations on a deal congressional officials said will be second only to the $29.5 billion sale of F-15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia announced in 2010. But the balancing act that was necessary in weighing the differing interests of each nation made it among the most complex ever negotiated.
While one goal was to ensure Israel continues to field the most capable armed forces in the region to deter Iran and counter a range of threats, it was equally important to improve capabilities of two important Arab military partners. Another challenge, senior administration officials said, was coming up with a package that could help Israel deal with security challenges — but devised so it would not be viewed as a U.S. endorsement of accelerated planning by Israel to strike alone at Tehran’s suspected nuclear facilities.
The objective, one senior administration official said, was “not just to boost Israel’s capabilities, but also to boost the capabilities of our Persian Gulf partners so they, too, would be able to address the Iranian threat — and also provide a greater network of coordinated assets around the region to handle a range of contingencies.”
Under the agreement, each country would be allowed to purchase advanced armaments from U.S. contractors. In Israel’s case, there is also substantial U.S. financial assistance, topping $3 billion in military aid this fiscal year.
Israel would buy new missiles designed to take out an adversary’s air-defense radars, as well as advanced radars for its own warplanes, new refueling tanker planes and — in the first sale to any foreign military — the V-22 Osprey troop transport aircraft. The United Arab Emirates would buy 26 F-16 warplanes, a package that could reach $5 billion alone, along with precision missiles that could be launched from those jets at distant ground targets.
Saudi Arabia would buy the same class of advanced missile.
The expectation is that the arms sale, which was outlined to Congress on Thursday, will encounter little opposition from lawmakers, especially from members representing districts where defense contractors are concerned about cutbacks in the Pentagon’s weapons budget.